- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 25, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Disagreement over the diamondback terrapin is dividing Maryland lawmakers and fisheries regulators, who cannot agree on how to save the state’s favorite turtle.

House and Senate members are considering bills this year to put terrapins off-limits to commercial catch. However, at a hearing last week to consider the plan, officials from the state Department of Natural Resources argued that the matter is best left to state biologists, not lawmakers.

That position brought a rebuke from lawmakers who want to join other East Coast states in banning a terrapin harvest.

“Shame on your department for not coming out against” a harvest, said Sen. Roy Dyson, St. Mary’s Democrat, who sponsored a ban and even brought terrapins Edward and Emily to the hearing.

Virginia is among the states that ban commercial terrapin harvesting, though the turtles aren’t an endangered species, Mr. Dyson said.

Biologists testified that terrapins are in decline, though the exact population isn’t known. The terrapin, mascot of the University of Maryland at College Park, is a hallmark critter of the Chesapeake Bay because it thrives in brackish water. Turtle meat is prized in Asian cuisine, and terrapins can bring a high price for watermen.

A terrapin-catch ban will be heard by a House committee this week.

Among those pushing for a ban was Jack Cover, curator of the National Aquarium of Baltimore. He said terrapins may be on “a slow spiral to extinction” and take a long time to reproduce, meaning they have a harder time rebounding from overharvesting.

State fisheries officials and a waterman argued against the bill. The Department of Natural Resources is planning a new management strategy for the terrapin, with a moratorium by May.

Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Waterman’s Association, argued that habitat destruction, not the work of watermen, is responsible for the terrapin’s misfortune. He said more terrapins are killed by recreational boaters and crab pots than by watermen. Last year, only 14 watermen obtained permits to catch terrapins, for a statewide harvest of $39,800.

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